By Kelsey Fox
Reading, writing, studying, and . . . surfing? For thousands of students heading off to college this year, a campus close to the beach and water is an absolute must. While some prefer the warm climes of Southern California or Florida, others crave the dark blue waters and autumn chill of New England and the Pacific Northwest. Either way, such students are in for a beautiful four years! Indeed, students who value an environment where they can easily relax and recharge will do well to consider these institutions. The schools on this list represent the 30 most beautiful coastal college campuses in the United States.
These beach colleges were chosen and ranked based on the following criteria:
- Location: Each campus on this list is located on the coast and within easy access to beaches.
- Awards & Recognition: (2 points for an international accolade; 1 point for an American accolade; 1 point for appearing on the National Register of Historic Places): Whether a national award or an honor bestowed by a group or organization, any recognition a campus has received played a large part in its placement on this list. Generally speaking, the larger and more recent the honor, the higher the college was placed.
- Student Enjoyment (1 point per notable feature): While most of the on-campus features described in this article can be appreciated visually by both students and visitors, those campuses with features that can be physically enjoyed by the school’s student body (such as botanical gardens) were given higher priority.
- Number of Notable Features (1 point per feature): Campuses with more than one significant or celebrated building or feature were ranked higher than those with a single notable feature. Local and privately owned beaches were included in this category.
- Other (1 point each): Those campuses with other notable characteristics, such as historical significance or environmental friendliness, were also considered.
Perched on the North Shore of the Massachusetts Bay, Endicott College is situated a convenient twenty miles north of Boston. Yet despite the close proximity to the big city, Endicott has a classic New England feel to it. The oceanfront campus includes three private beaches on Salem Sound, all of which are exclusively for the use of students. When not in class, students often take advantage of the nearby town and myriad of other nearby beaches to tan, play at water sports, or enjoy a warm bowl of New England clam chowder.
Long Beach, California
Despite being a large commuter campus, California State University–Long Beach retains plenty of beach-y Southern California charm. The pedestrian-friendly campus is home to the iconic Walter Pyramid, plenty of stores and popular restaurants, fountains, and even the world’s largest Lego piece. Students who wish to get off campus can easily take the free shuttle system to L.B. hotspots such as 2nd Street (known for its boutiques and unique cuisine), the Pike (home to the aquarium and other touristy venues), the port from which cruise ships leave, or any of the local beaches.
New London, Connecticut
West Long Branch, New Jersey
Founded in 1933, Monmouth University sits on 156 acres less than a mile from the Atlantic coast. In fact, the campus is situated less than a mile from the famous — infamous? — Jersey Shore. Monmouth students especially enjoy frequenting the Seven Presidents’ Oceanfront Park, a popular New Jersey destination for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and more. Students interested in this beach college who also enjoy urban comforts will be happy to know that Monmouth is a mere 40 miles from New York City, while those looking for a cozier beach town environment will surely enjoy the grassroots surf community that West Long Branch has become.
Like its neighbors in the University of Hawaii system, the campus at Hilo is literally surrounded by beautiful views and ocean access. Hilo’s large, spacious campus is located in a tropical setting perfect for taking the books for an outside-study session. On sunny days, students who choose to stay on campus can often be found under one of the hundreds of trees. Other students choose to spend their free-time enjoying all that the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer. In fact, the island is a natural living laboratory complete with active volcanoes, deep oceans, and rich cultural landscapes.
Seattle Pacific University sits in the beautiful and historic Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill. The 43-acre campus is home to charming brick buildings, state-of-the-art facilities, and some of the oldest trees in all of Seattle. The most iconic building on campus is surely Alexander Hall. Called only the “Red Brick Building” when it was first built to house the Seattle Seminary, Alexander Hall is now the oldest building on campus. Students of the main campus may also enjoy taking the occasional trip to Seattle Pacific’s two satellite campuses located on Whidbey Island and Blakely Island. Despite the university’s location in urban Seattle, students often frequent nearby Alki Beach and Madonna Beach, where fishing, boating, and scuba diving are all popular pastimes.
St. Augustine, Florida
As if ocean views, palm trees, and an outdoor swimming pool weren’t enough to land a school a solid spot on this list, Flagler College also owns one of Florida’s most beautiful historic buildings. Originally built in 1888 as a luxury hotel, the Ponce de Leon building is now used as a residence hall for Flagler students. The Spanish Renaissance revival, located mere blocks from the beach, boasts a marble staircase, beautiful rotunda, and castle-like turrets. In addition to Ponce de Leon, Flagler has been steadily purchasing other historic buildings in the area to renovate and add to their gorgeous campus.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Nicknamed “The Island University” because it’s situated on South Texas’ Oso Island, near the Gulf of Mexico, Texas A&M–Corpus Christi is the perfect school for anyone in love with water sports. In fact, much of the campus encompasses part of Padre Island which is well-known for its white-sand beaches and resident nature preserve. As if the average 223 days of sunshine weren’t awesome enough, high wind speeds are very common in the Corpus Christi area, making it perfect for anyone whose day isn’t complete before a round of wind surfing, sailing, or kite boarding, all of which are extremely popular. The campus’s myriad nearby beaches are also perfect for surfing, swimming, boating, or just hanging out in the sunshine.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Honolulu on the island of Oahu, University of Hawaii at Manoa is literally surrounded by coastal scenery and the Pacific Ocean (not surprisingly, one of the university’s most popular majors is Oceanography). The campus is less than 45 minutes from Queens, Makaha, Pipeline, and every other surf spot on the island. For students interested in tanning, more casual surfing, snorkeling, swimming, or just taking a walk on the beach, world-famous Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Beach are mere minutes away and are pleasant year round.
San Diego, California
West Palm Beach, Florida
Consisting of many Mediterranean-style buildings, Palm Beach Atlantic University fits right into its Palm Beach, Florida setting. Situated directly across the Intracoastal Waterway from some of the city’s best public beaches, students at Palm Beach Atlantic often find themselves studying or attending class on the beach. The Christian liberal arts school’s prime location means it’s also within easy walking distance to myriad restaurants, cultural centers, stores, and churches. True beach lovers will also love the university’s easy proximity to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, an 11,000-acre barrier island where hiking, snorkeling, and scuba diving are all popular pastimes.
Located 90 miles from Seattle, Western Washington University is a peaceful Pacific Coast refuge that has been described as “magical” on more than one occasion. Red-brick pathways wind their ways through the conifer-scented campus and are enjoyed by both students and the local deer population. Campus gems include the Wilson Library Reading Room (nicknamed “The Harry Potter Room”), Haskell Plaza and its grassy mounds organized into a rough map of the San Juan Islands, and the impressive Performing Arts Center Plaza. Views of the aforementioned islands and Bellingham Bay are visible from most of campus, while the nearby town of Bellingham boasts pubs, live music venues, and a number of well-received restaurants.
Santa Barbara, California
Students at the University of California–Santa Barbara not only get to spend their college years in one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, but also get to spend their class time surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on three sides. When not in class, UCSB students can enjoy the beach-front college-town that is Isla Vista. Otherwise, the 1,000-acre campus sits adjacent to man-made Goleta Beach, a popular locale for sunbathing and fishing, and a prime surfing spot. UC Santa Barbara consistently ranks among the nation’s top public schools, and has even been recognized by Public Ivy Universities as one of the top research facilities in the United States.
San Diego, California
Much of the architecture on Point Loma Nazarene’s 90-acre campus dates back to its interesting start as the site of a Theosophical commune. Most notable is the stunning Greek theater that was constructed in 1901. The only one of its kind on the continent, the theater is a popular attraction for both students and visitors. Another magnificent campus building is Mieras Hall. An eye-catching focal point, Mieras blends Victorian timber design with unusual shapes and antiquated details such as Corinthian-style columns and an amethyst dome. Perched atop San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs, the campus also offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Located in historic and charming Wilmington, North Carolina, this state university is a well-known — and well-respected — coastal university. The campus neighbors a number of beautiful beaches and island communities, the most famous of which is Wrightsville Beach, one of the barrier islands on the Cape Fear Coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This mellow beach community is a popular vacation destination, though students have year-round access for surfing, boating, kayaking, and more. But University of North Carolina isn’t just known for its pretty scenery; it has the #1 surf team in the world, and is second in the state for the highest four-year graduation rate.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Once upon a time, Mount Desert Island was a summer escape for wealthy families looking to get away from the heat of the cities. Today, most of these large summer homes are gone, though a little Gilded Age charm still exists. The Turrets, a stone castle built in 1895, now acts as College of the Atlantic’s main administrative building, while other homes have been purchased and renovated into residence halls. Amazingly, the College’s 350 or so students consider Acadia National Park as their backyard and personal research laboratory. The charming town of Bar Harbor is the epitome of New England charm, and offers lighthouse tours, sailing classes, aviation trips, and coastal bike tours. And in May through October, humpback whales grace the waters surrounding the town.
Fort Myers, Florida
Florida Gulf Coast University is pure Floridian paradise in every sense of the word. The university totals nearly 800 acres, with plans to build on only 400 due to the fact that the campus doubles as a nature preserve. Wildlife — including gators! — abound on the clean grounds and look right at home amongst the cool Florida architecture. A university-owned beach is located within walking distance, and is the perfect spot for swimming, jet skiing, or renting a boat. The economic wealth of nearby Fort Myers and Naples contribute to the university atmosphere as well; students have plenty of high-end shopping and restaurant options within easy access to the campus.
Conway, South Carolina
Students interested in marine biology flock to South Carolina’s Coastal Carolina University due to the school’s prime coastal location. Just minutes from vacation hotspot Myrtle Beach, the 631-acre campus consists of 102 main buildings, including the Coastal Science Center and the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies. Students receive plenty of hands-on experience at Waties Island, an 1,100-acre barrier island owned by the university and used exclusively for the study of marine science and wetland biology. Amateur golfers may also enjoy swinging a club towards the view at the 18-hole General James Hackler Golf Course at Coastal Carolina University.
Located on Pensacola Bay, which connects to the Gulf of Mexico, University of West Florida is a paradise for students who enjoy beach life and water sports. The university owns part of Pensacola Beach, which is in turn used for both recreation and legitimate research. Much of the campus is located within a wilderness preserve, so birds, gators, and other critters are not a rare sight. Students have plenty of hiking and mountain bike trails within a short distance from campus, while those who prefer to explore the Escambia River can do so with a rented kayak or canoe. Whatever one’s preferred way to spend the day, it can be done in Pensacola, where the average winter low is just 42.8 degrees.
With an average 246 sunny days a year and an average January low of 51 degrees, it’s no wonder that University of Tampa students love to spend time out of doors. Banana trees and stately oak trees line the walkways on the green campus, which also includes an aquatic center, outdoor and indoor basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, softball fields, tennis courts, a running track, and much more. Students also have full access to all that Tampa has to offer. In fact, the city was ranked by Forbes as the 5th best city for outdoor activities. Highlights include the world-famous Gasparilla Pirate Festival and the Florida State Fair.
San Diego, California
San Diego State University takes full advantage of the city’s amazing weather: winter lows hover around 48, while summer highs average a comfortable 75 degrees. Regardless of the time of year, students can enjoy sporting events ranging for anything from water polo and swimming, to ice hockey, baseball, and volleyball, to name but a few. The campus also boasts an Open Air Theater, where productions of all sorts take place. Beach lovers have a number of choices, and can even hit the waves in northern Baja in the same short time it would take to get to many San Diego beaches.
Located just 35 minutes from hopping Honolulu, Brigham Young University–Hawaii is situated in the cozy town of Laie. With breath-taking views of Oahu’s green mountains on one side, and spectacular ocean views on the other, BYU–Hawaii has plenty to offer its students. Miles of beaches are located nearby for sunbathing, surfing, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, diving, and more. With an average 269 sunny days per year, Laie is also the perfect locale for a morning hike before classes. For those students who wish to spend their free time on campus, BYU–Hawaii offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, one of Hawaii’s most popular museums.
Newport, Rhode Island
Founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Mercy, Salve Regina University is a beautiful 80-acre waterfront campus located in Newport, Rhode Island’s Ochre Point-Cliffs National Historic District. As if “waterfront” and “National Historic District” weren’t charmingly cool enough, the university also boasts a surprisingly large (if not chilly) surf scene. But the true gems of Salve Regina are certainly on its 80-acre campus, and include the impressive chateau that is Ochre Court, the Romanesque Revival McAuley Hall, and the mock-Elizabethan Wakehurst manor house.
With its often-barefooted brainiacs studying their self-designed curriculum, New College of Florida might just be the most unique liberal arts honors college in the United States. Most studying is done on the sandy beaches of Sarasota, or in the hammocks strung in picturesque palm and banyan trees situated all over the campus. The blue-green waters of Sarasota Bay can be seen from just about anywhere on campus, while the local town is well known for its selections of boutiques, antique shops, and brew pubs. Campus gems include three 1920s-era bay-front mansions, including one pink marble structure that was originally built by Charles Ringling of circus fame, and now acts as College Hall, the school’s primary administrative building.
Santa Cruz, California
Any university with a banana slug for a mascot must be cool, and UC Santa Cruz doesn’t disappoint. Situated along the central coast of California and overlooking Monterey Bay, UCSC is only 75 miles from San Francisco and even closer to several popular Bay Area Beaches like Cowell Beach and the famous Natural Bridges State Beach, the latter of which features a natural rock arch over a section of the beach. The campus is also a surfer’s delight; despite the perennially cold water and shark-infested (literally) deeps, surfers flock to Santa Cruz for access to the world-famous Mavericks. Students not interested in swimming with sharks have plenty of other coastal gems to enjoy, such as 2,000 acres of rolling hills, countless hiking trails, natural running creeks, the nearby Potter Caves, and the redwood trees, to name but a few.
St. Petersburg, Florida
Sitting right on the coast of Tampa Bay, Eckerd College is easily one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Take a walk through the private liberal arts college’s campus, and you are certain to catch a glimpse of nearby Boca Ciega Bay, palm trees, pelicans, students lazing in hammocks, a volleyball game in play, and maybe even a school of dolphins. College-owned South Beach is the place to be, where students can rent things like kayaks, sailboats, and fishing equipment. For those looking to get really up close and personal with the water, Eckerd offers wakeboarding trips, wind surfing lessons, boating trips, and much more.
Kingston, Rhode Island
Located within easy reach of Providence, Newport, Boston, and New York City, University of Rhode Island combines the best of New England tradition and coastal charm. The 1,200-acre campus is dotted with both ivy-covered buildings and contemporary architecture. Best of all, the campus overlooks the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, offering students stellar natural views. Not surprisingly, the university is home to the highly respected Graduate School of Oceanography, which consistently ranks as one of the top five oceanographic institutions in the country. A 2,300-acre second campus is located 30 minutes from Providence, and boasts pristine forests, streams, ponds, and a 75-acre lake. Mostly used as the National Center for Environmental Education, it is also a popular locale for conferences, retreats, school field trips, and camps.
San Diego, California
University of San Diego is a small private university situated atop a hill, and thereby providing stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Harbor, the Coronado Islands, and La Jolla. Nearly every building on campus was constructed in the 16th-century Spanish Renaissance architectural style, a style consistent with the university’s Catholic roots. One of the most magnificent buildings on the 180-acre campus is undoubtedly Immaculata Church, which is decked out in unique details that include a door made of solid bronze, Spanish-inspired red-tiled roofs, and a mosaicked dome.
Pepperdine University is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States. The Mediterranean-revival architecture seems to ooze Southern California charm. Set amongst the foothills of Malibu, Pepperdine boasts easy access to some of the most celebrity-dotted beaches on the coast, while from the campus itself, students can enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Channel Islands, and the city of Los Angeles. Though Pepperdine’s easy-going beauty makes it easy to get caught up in the Hollywood glamour, most students at this prestigious Christian school choose to spend their free time at nearby Zuma Beach or wandering around the gorgeous hillside campus.
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